Election 2011: Worm turns, and Goff's a winner

By Derek Cheng

Labour's Phil Goff (L) and National's John Key. Photos / Supplied TV3
Labour's Phil Goff (L) and National's John Key. Photos / Supplied TV3

The underclass, its poster child Aroha Ireland and the prospect of the return of Winston Peters came to the fore during last night's leaders debate as Labour's Phil Goff again drew a line in the sand over partial sales of state assets.

And if the unscientific worm is anything to go by, Mr Goff was a clear winner - gaining points on issues such as the divide between rich and poor and helping the most vulnerable.

But Prime Minister John Key also struck a chord by distancing himself from the instability that Mr Peters could throw into the mix should the New Zealand First leader return to Parliament.

The worm was controlled by a group of 65 "undecided" voters reacting to the debate.

Late last night, National Party member and Kiwiblog founder David Farrar claimed at least three Labour voters and a Green voter were among the "wormers".

But debate producer Keith Slater said the panel was carefully selected under strict criteria by a reputable company.

If politically aligned people were on it, they "would have lied to the people selecting the panel".

The debate, chaired by John Campbell, had a more measured feel than the previous two televised encounters.

There was no "show me the money" moment as there was during the Press debate, or a "liar" moment as in the first Television NZ one, but each man made veiled comments about the other's dishonesty.

The early topics of poverty and unemployment seemed to suit Mr Goff, who repeatedly used stories about real people to illustrate his points.

He started and finished the debate as predicted - declaring that a vote for Labour was a vote to keep state assets fully New Zealand owned.

On the underclass, Mr Goff repeatedly mentioned McGehan Close, a street in his electorate that Mr Key had called the underclass, and Aroha Ireland, a teenager from that street who recently said she was moving to Australia.

The worm nudged upwards for Mr Goff when he talked about the tax cuts under National helping the rich, and the growing lines at foodbanks.

Mr Key defended his record, citing the global financial crisis and policies to improve child immunisation rates and home insulation, and saying his party's welfare reforms would divert children away from a road to nowhere

"It will cost us money, but in the end when you have a system costing $8 billion a year [on welfare], we are robbing those kids of a life of ... greater opportunity."

The next round was employment, where again Mr Goff's worm rose as he talked about people being unable to live on $13 an hour.

Mr Key countered by attacked Labour's record in Government, saying 20 per cent of people were leaving school unable to read and write - but this approach pushed the worm down.

It was here Mr Key first alluded to Mr Goff's mishandling of economic figures, saying, "He hasn't been great on his numbers."

Mr Key said National backed the 500,000 small businesses that formed the backbone of the economy with measures including the 90-day trial for new workers and a lower minimum wage than Labour is proposing.

He said he backed the Hobbit movies while Mr Goff and his "union mates didn't", but Mr Goff won the worm over by bringing the debate back to the vulnerable.

The third round was partial asset sales, and Mr Key defended the proposal by saying Air New Zealand and Trade Me operated the same way.

Mr Goff countered by citing a poll showing two-thirds of the population were against the policy, and called Mr Key "arrogant" for going through with something so apparently unpopular.

He tried to suggest Mr Key wanted to sell more assets, including Kiwibank, but his National rival said Kiwibank was off the table as long as he was Prime Minister, and he would not sell shares in any other state assets in the next parliamentary term should his party win the election.

The final topic, the referendum on MMP, allowed Mr Key to paint a picture of a Labour-led "cocktail" of parties including Winston Peters, who he said could not be trusted.

"It's comedy central. There's no way anyone can argue Winston Peters will provide stability."

This was the time where the worm clearly favoured Mr Key.

It turned down every time Mr Goff tried to defend Mr Peters.

Mr Goff has avoided saying whether he trusts Mr Peters, but last night switched tactics to say he trusted him to follow through with any post-election agreement.

He countered Mr Key's claims of instability by referring to National's preferred coalition party, Act, which "less than 1 per cent of people want" in Parliament.

Mr Key and Mr Goff will have a final debate on TVNZ tomorrow.

- NZ Herald

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